Simple, Self-Contained LoRa Repeater In About An Hour

[Dave Akerman]’s interest in high-altitude projects means he is no stranger to long-range wireless communications, for which LoRa is amazingly useful. LoRa is a method of transmitting at relatively low data rates with low power over long distances.

Despite LoRa’s long range, sometimes the transmissions of a device (like a balloon’s landed payload) cannot be received directly because it is too far away, or hidden behind buildings and geography. In these cases a useful solution is [Dave]’s self-contained LoRa repeater. The repeater hardware is simple, and [Dave] says that if one has the parts on hand, it can be built in about an hour.

The device simply re-transmits any telemetry packets it receives, and all that takes is an Arduino Mini Pro and a small LoRa module. A tiny DC-DC converter, battery, and battery charger rounds out the bill of materials to create a small and self-contained unit that can be raised up on a mast, flown on a kite, or carried by a drone.

The repeater’s frequency and other settings can even be reprogrammed (using a small windows program) for maximum flexibility, making the little device invaluable when going hunting for landed payloads like the one [Dave] used to re-create a famous NASA image using a plastic model and a high-altitude balloon. Check out the details on the GitHub repository for the project and start mashing “add to cart” for parts at your favorite reseller.

Plastic Model Emulates The First Untethered Spacewalk

Here’s something really wonderful. [Dave Akerman] wrote up the results of his attempt to use a high-altitude balloon to try to re-create a famous image of NASA’s Bruce McCandless floating freely in space with the Earth in the background. [Dave] did this in celebration of the 34th anniversary of the first untethered spacewalk, even going so far as to launch on the same day as the original event in 1984. He had excellent results, with plenty of video and images recorded by his payload.

80’s “Astronaut with MMU” model kit.

Adhering to the actual day of the spacewalk wasn’t the only hurdle [Dave] jumped to make this happen. He tracked down an old and rare “Astronaut with MMU” (Mobile Maneuvering Unit) plastic model kit made by Revell USA and proceeded to build it and arrange for it to remain in view of the cameras. Raspberry Pi Zero Ws with cameras, LoRA hardware, action cameras, and a UBlox GPS unit all make an appearance in the balloon’s payload.

Sadly, [Bruce McCandless] passed away in late 2017, but this project is a wonderful reminder of that first untethered spacewalk. Details on the build and the payload, as well as the tracking system, are covered here on [Dave]’s blog. Videos of the launch and the inevitable balloon burst are embedded below, but more is available in the summary write-up.

Continue reading “Plastic Model Emulates The First Untethered Spacewalk”

Raspberry Pi Balloon Goes Too High, Goes Boom, But Survives

Some people like to get high on a Wednesday afternoon. [Kevin Hubbard] of Black Mesa Labs likes to get really high. Even higher than intended: last month, he flew a helium balloon powered by a Raspberry Pi to 103,000 feet. It was only supposed to go to 90,000, but a fault in the code for the controller meant that it went higher, burst and plunged to the ground. All thanks to an extra hash mark in his code.

Continue reading “Raspberry Pi Balloon Goes Too High, Goes Boom, But Survives”

Tiny Radio Tracks Your Balloons

The name of the game in rocketry or ballooning is weight. The amount of mass that can be removed from one of these high-altitude devices directly impacts how high and how far it can go. Even NASA, which estimates about $10,000 per pound for low-earth orbit, has huge incentives to make lightweight components. And, while the Santa Barbara Hackerspace won’t be getting quite that much altitude, their APRS-enabled balloon/rocket tracker certainly helps cut down on weight.

Tracksoar is a 2″ x .75″ x .5″ board which weighs in at 45 grams with a pair of AA batteries and boasts an ATmega 328P microcontroller with plenty of processing power for its array of on-board sensors. Not to mention everything else you would need like digital I/O, a GPS module, and, of course, the APRS radio which allows it to send data over amateur radio frequencies. The key to all of this is that the APRS module is integrated with the board itself, which saves weight over the conventional method of having a separate APRS module in addition to the microcontroller and sensors.

As far as we can see, this is one of the smallest APRS modules we’ve ever seen. It could certainly be useful for anyone trying to save weight in any high-altitude project. There are a few other APRS projects out there as well but remember: an amateur radio license will almost certainly be required to use any of these.

Retrotechtacular: Stateside Assembly And Launch Of V-2 Rockets

At the end of World War II, the United States engaged in Operation Paperclip to round up German V-2 rockets and their engineers. The destination for these rockets? White Sands Proving Grounds in the New Mexico desert, where they would be launched 100 miles above the Earth for the purpose of high altitude research.

This 1947 War Department Film Bulletin takes a look inside the activities at White Sands. Here, V-2 rockets are assembled from 98% German-made parts constructed before V-E day. The hull of each rocket is lined with glass wool insulation by men without masks. The alcohol and liquid oxygen tanks are connected together, and skins are fitted around them to keep fuel from leaking out. Once the hull is in place around the fuel tanks, the ends are packed with more glass wool. Now the rocket is ready for its propulsion unit.

In the course of operation, alcohol and liquid oxygen are pumped through a series of eighteen jets to the combustion chamber. The centrifugal fuel pump is powered by steam, which is generated separately by the reaction between hydrogen peroxide and sodium permanganate.

A series of antennas are affixed to the rocket’s fins. Instead of explosives, the warhead is packed with instruments to report on high altitude conditions. Prior to launch, the rocket’s tare weight is roughly five tons. It will be filled with nine tons of fuel once it is erected and unclamped.

At the launch site, a gantry crane is used to add the alcohol, the liquid oxygen, and the steam turbine fuels after the controls are wired up. The launch crew assembles in a blockhouse with a 27-foot-thick roof of reinforced concrete and runs through the protocol. Once the rocket has returned to Earth, they track down the pieces using radar, scouting planes, and jeeps to recover the instruments.

Thanks for the tip, [Thomas].

Retrotechtacular is a weekly column featuring hacks, technology, and kitsch from ages of yore. Help keep it fresh by sending in your ideas for future installments.

Operation StratoSphere

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Panoramic photos are nice, however a full 360 degree x 180 degree, or spherical panorama would be even better. [Caleb Anderson] decided to take this concept much further, attempting to extract panoramic photos from video taken at 100,000 feet using a high-altitude balloon and six GoPro cameras.

The overview of this project can be found here, and gives some background. The first task was to start prototyping some payload containers, which for a device that you have little control over once out of your hands is quite critical. As well as some background, there’s a cool interactive panorama of the first test results on this page, so be sure to check it out.

The “real” hacking in this experiment wasn’t a matter of putting a balloon into the stratosphere or recovering it, however. Chaining these images together into pictures was a huge challenge, and involved a diverse set of skills and software knowledge that most of our readers would be proud to possess. There are several videos in the explanation, but we’ve embedded one with the cameras falling out of the sky. Be sure to at least watch until (or skip to) just after 1:05 where all the cameras impressively survive impact! Continue reading “Operation StratoSphere”

Task Scheduler For Arduino

For their recent high altitude balloon project LVL1 member [Brad] programmed a pretty complicated brain based on an Arduino. It was responsible for collecting data from all of the sensors, and reporting back in a few different ways. One of the things he did to simplify the project was develop a task scheduler for the Arduino board. It lets you add functions to a queue of jobs, along with data about when they should be run.

The task scheduler does make coding a bit easier, but where it really shines is in situations like this where you don’t have access to the hardware if there’s a problem. In his description of the scheduler [Brad] mentions the possibility that one of the sensors could fail as the cold of the upper atmosphere takes its toll. This could leave the whole system stuck in a subroutine, and therefore it will stop sending reports back to the team on the ground. Since he was using the task scheduler it was a snap to add watchdog timer servicing to the mix. Now if program execution gets stuck the watchdog will reset the chip and all is not lost.

[Thanks  JAC_101]